Though one does not typically equate artistic pursuits with litigation, there are two particular areas within the realm of law worth artists' attention: copyright and contracts.
Artists and Copyright
There are three big copyright-related realities of which you should be aware:
- Most things you upload online are automatically copyrighted (we say "most" because some sites' user agreements may alter your rights to images you upload through your account)
- Should you wish to follow through on a copyright suit (e.g. by suing someone for copyright violation), you will still need to register your work with the United States copyright office (yes, published works are automatically copyrighted, but you have to jump through additional hoops if you actually want to punish someone else for violating those rights)
- It is possible to enable others to use your work without relinquishing control by using Creative Commons licensing
For more on protecting and defending your copyright, check out the following guides:
- Protecting and Defending Your Content from Theft
- How to Send a DMCA Complaint to a Copyright Violator
Artists and Contracts
Contracts with Various Websites
If you absolutely detest the idea of thoroughly reading through the Terms of Service of every site you join, consider utilizing TOSDR (Terms of Service; Didn't Read), which provides helpful summaries and evaluations of major sites (though alas, not all sites).
Contracts with Employers
While it can be incredibly exciting to be offered a lucrative contract with a company you admire, do not blithely sign a work contract without giving it at least two thorough read-throughs (and ideally having a lawyer, friend, colleague, or family member- who knows what to look for- read through it as well).
Important details to look out for include:
- Responsibilities: make sure that a company's description of your responsibilities matches that which you intend to deliver (be extra mindful of office hours and meeting expectations if you are expected to make physical appearances)
- Benefits: though rarely given to short-term contractors, it is nevertheless important to know whether your client will provide vacation leave, health insurance, or even stock options as part of your contract
- Nondisclosure / confidentiality agreements: depending on how these are worded, confidentiality agreements might prevent you from ever showcasing your contributions to a client within your portfolio (generally speaking, confidentiality agreements prevent you from sharing anything about the company that is not public knowledge)
- Details that prevent outside activities: ideally, your contract should not prevent you from working with other clients on the side while also producing work for them
- Paid expenses: should your work require the requesition and use of costly supplies, make sure you have shared expectations as to who will be paying for them
- Intellectual property ("shop rights"): many employers lay claim to work you produce on the job (even if it is simply comprised of sketches or a random concept brought up in a meeting); make sure it is clear that work you create independently (that is, outside of time spent in their offices or working in their project) while actively engaged with this employer is not something to which he or she may lay claim; also consider whether you would like to maintain some rights to work produced within the constraints of this contract- if so, changes may need to be made
Nonsolicitation of clients and employees: be mindful of any details within the contract that may bar you from working with the company's clients or employees in the future; some of the most valuable things an artist takes away from client work are introductions to potential future partners and clients that take place during the execution of the project
- Noncompete clauses: make sure that any noncompete clause within the contract will not hamper your ability to work once your project with this employer is complete (be particularly mindful of durations, geographic areas, and the reasonableness of the requirement)
- Dispute resolution: be mindful of any special methods (e.g. working with a mediator instead of going to court) your contract may specify with regard to conflict resolution
- Choice of law and choice of forum clauses: especially important if working for a company in a different region; this specifies where legal proceedings will take place should a dispute go to court
- Termination: make sure to know the exact grounds on which you may be terminated (chances are the contract will refer to at-will employment, meaning that any party is free to terminate your relationship at any time and without warning, but there may be other important details that have been added in)
Contracts with Representation
Carefully vet potential art dealers and galleries before signing contracts with them. Avoid signing contracts with people or organizations with whom you are not familiar. If possible, keep the duration of the contracts short (e.g. under 12 months) if you are working with them for the first time. Avoid exclusive contracts that would prevent you from working with other potential sellers.
Before even creating a contract, do your research. Be aware of common terms in similar contracts. Understand your general worth, clout, and negotiating power based on your experience and past sales. Have in mind the terms and conditions (e.g. revenue splits, final say on key decisions, etc.) that matter the most to you. Know which ones are set in stone and which may be negotiable. Think through what your dealer or a particular gallery will want from your relationship and propose terms that will help you cultivate a long-standing and mutually-beneficial relationship. Consider recruiting a more experienced colleague or mediator to help you establish your desired terms and negotiate a final arrangement. Do not agree to terms on which you cannot deliver.
Important clauses to think through include:
- Exclusivity: which would prevent you from working with other galleries and dealers
- Mediation: which can spare you from costly legal battles
- Bankruptcy: to protect your work from any financial mishaps experienced by a dealer or gallery
- Theft or damage: should something bad happen to your work
- Unreasonable termination: which might require you to return advances
- Reproduction rights: should you wish to control the manner in which you make money from any reproductions of your work
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